Riverhead School District

2014 Educator of the Year: Greg Wallace

If you went to one of those websites that ask people to grade their teachers and searched for Riverhead High School physics teacher Greg Wallace, you’d find comments like: “An awesome guy and wonderful mentor who truly loves his students.”

You’ll also find this: “I learned a lot. He’s an awesome teacher.”

And this: “Great teacher who definitely knows how to have fun. He knows how to connect with the students and is just overall an awesome teacher.”

Mr. Wallace, whose students affectionately call him “Wally,” has taught in the Riverhead School District for more than 14 years. He’s known for his fun teaching style.

Riverhead High School science teacher Greg Wallace (far right) with his students at the 2011 Rube Goldberg competition. (Credit: Suzanne Hulme)
Riverhead High School science teacher Greg Wallace (far right) with his students at the 2011 Rube Goldberg competition. (Credit: Suzanne Hulme)

And now he’s gotten another compliment: Mr. Wallace has been selected as the News-Review’s Educator of the Year for 2014 for making learning fun and interesting for his students, as well as for the other things he does in the community, including helping to save a fellow teacher’s life last year.

For the last five years, Mr. Wallace has helped organize the annual Rube Goldberg competition in the high school and middle school, which challenges students to make a certain object in at least 20 steps. This goal for this past year’s contest was to construct a gadget that ends up zipping a zipper in at least 20 movements.

“Basically, what we’re trying to do is set the hook by doing some fun things,” Mr. Wallace said in a 2010 interview.

Fellow Riverhead High School teacher Jeff Greenberger described Mr. Wallace as “a good guy.”

“He’s an old-fashioned activist,” Mr. Greenberger said. “He works for change rather than just talking about it.”

Mr. Greenberger said he believes Mr. Wallace is popular with students because he makes education entertaining.

“The ninth-graders who take physics with him are really motivated by that project,” Mr. Greenberger said, referring to the competition. “It makes physics come alive in a way that lab work may not be so successful at doing.”

Judy Isbitiren, program coordinator at the Long Island Science Center in Riverhead, said she enjoys collaborating with Mr. Wallace.

“He’s not your run-of-the-mill educator,” she said. “He’s very passionate and he’s very hands-on and the students get a lot out of his program.”

Mr. Wallace’s dedication to the community goes beyond the classroom.

As treasurer of the teacher’s union, he organized a Harlem Wizards basketball game at the high school in November that reportedly raised more than $10,000 for a scholarship program.

A former chief with the East Marion Fire Department chief, he is also a critical care emergency medical technician, teaches others how to use automated external defibrillators and gives CPR classes.

Last May, Mr. Wallace’s emergency response skills helped save a teacher’s life.

Lonnie Hughes, a 57-year-old teacher at Phillips Avenue Elementary School, collapsed and went into an apparent cardiac arrest while participating in a tug-of-war challenge during the district’s annual Crazy Sports Night in the high school gym. Mr. Hughes later said he was diagnosed with arrhythmia.

Mr. Wallace was one of several people in the audience who jumped to Mr. Hughes’ aid.

A Riverhead Volunteer Ambulance crew was also on standby at the event and stabilized Mr. Hughes. He was then taken to Peconic Bay Medical Center, and later transported to Stony Brook University Medical Center.

Mr. Hughes said in an interview this week that he’s fully recovered. He said he doesn’t know Mr. Wallace personally, but will forever be indebted to him.

“What do I know about Greg is that he’s a really good guy — a team person,” Mr. Hughes said. “And I’d like to say that he was very instrumental in saving my life, as were the other people there that night. I’m just grateful that they were available.

“He’s the kind of guy we need in Riverhead,” Mr. Hughes said.

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Previous Winners

2013: Keri Stromski
2012: Jeff Doroski
2011: Jim Schaefer
2010: Stacy Tuohy
2009: Laura Grable
2008: Vincent Nasta
2007: Marion Dorman
2006: Theresa Drozd
2005: Frank Rotenberg
2004: Kevin McAllister
2003: Leif Shay
2002: Bob Jester
2001: Jean Lapinski
2000: Pat Rose
1999: Pat Snyder
1998: Carol Masin
1997: L. Custer, J. Greenberger
1996: Terri Peters
1995: Jim Roth
1994: Tim Hubbard
1993: Dot Moran
1992: Dorothy Lipsky
1991: Willie Patterson
1990: Audrey Stupke
1989: Ray McKieghan
1988: Stanley Krouse